Salt Lake County sees its first coronavirus case in a homeless resource center

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) The new Men's Resource Center (MRC) in South Salt Lake is shown in this Nov. 5, 2019, file photo. Operated by The Road Home, the facility is designed to meet the needs of single men experiencing homelessness. Salt Lake County on Thursday reported the first known case of coronavirus in any of the three resource centers — a man over the age of 60 at the South Salt Lake facility. He has been hospitalized and the center has suspended admitting new clients at the center for the time being.

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Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson on Thursday announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in a homeless resource center.

A man over age 60 tested positive Wednesday evening, Wilson said during a weekly virtual news conference on the county’s coronavirus response. The man was staying at the 300-bed men’s South Salt Lake resource center and has been transported to the hospital for treatment, she said.

“Given the aggressive nature of the virus, we knew that we would face this," she said. "It’s heartbreaking when it happens, but we are on it.”

Wilson said the South Salt Lake resource center, operated by The Road Home, will not be accepting any new clients at this time. Two dozen men who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus or had been in close contact with the man who tested positive have been moved to a county-owned quarantine facility. Health officials have declined to release the location of that site.

Wilson said the resource centers are continuing to do daily screenings for COVID-19 and focusing on cleaning techniques and hygiene processes to prevent further spread among the homeless population.

The Road Home added in a statement that it had completed a “deep cleaning of the dorm, common areas and bathrooms where this guest was staying.”

“Additionally, we are speaking with each of our [men’s resource center] team members, and anyone with specific exposure will quarantine at their home,” the statement continued. “At all times, the health and safety of our clients, employees and volunteers are our top priorities, and we are doing everything we can to keep everyone safe and limit the spread of this disease.”

In an email to volunteers on Thursday, The Road Home said it was also temporarily placing a hold all service opportunities. Those who still want to help can order essential supplies for those who move into housing, like cleaning supplies and toilet paper, on Amazon or put together pre-made dinners for guests at the Midvale Family Shelter operated by The Road Home. Those meal boxes are made up of one nonperishable, single serving, prepackaged item, like ramen or microwaveable mac 'n' cheese; two sides, like fruit or fruit snacks; one dessert and one beverage.

People experiencing homelessness are thought to be more vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus than the general population, since those who live in encampments often have limited access to hygiene services while people who rely on shelters find themselves in cramped rooms packed with dozens of others seeking refuge from the elements.

Health officials and homeless service providers have been working in recent weeks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among the homeless community. The Fourth Street Clinic, which provides medical care for the homeless, has primarily taken the lead on testing members of the homeless population for COVID-19 and has put up a tent in its parking lot so health officials there are able to segregate people who have respiratory illness symptoms.

Salt Lake County has also created a new street outreach program to help people experiencing homelessness who are camping or staying on the streets.

Chloe Morroni, a spokeswoman with the county mayor’s office, said there have been two confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the unsheltered community. One of those individuals is in isolation in a county-run center and the other has been released and is currently asymptomatic.